Sugar Act Explained — Section 30

April 5, 1764

Section 30 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains that British customs officials have the authority to seize British ships coming from European ports. This was intended to reduce smuggling.

Sugar Act, 1764, Date, Taxes, Reaction, Grenville Acts, AHC

George Grenville, Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, was responsible for the Sugar Act of 1764, starting the movement in the 13 Colonies against Taxation Without Representation.

Understanding the Sugar Act of 1764

This entry is part of a series that explains the Sugar Act of 1764, including, rules, regulations, and penalties. To learn more, see History of the Sugar Act and Facts About the Sugar Act. Vocabulary, key people, and primary documents related to the Sugar Act are listed at the bottom of this article.

Section 30 — Seizure of British Ships Coming from European Ports

XXX. And whereas British vessels arriving from foreign parts at several of the out ports of this kingdom, fully or in part laden abroad with goods that are pretended to be destined to some foreign plantation, do frequently take on board some small parcels of goods in this kingdom which are entered outwards for some British colony or plantation, and a cocket and clearance thereupon granted for such goods, under cover of which the whole cargoes of such vessels are clandestinely landed in the British American dominions, contrary to several acts of parliament now in force, to the great prejudice of the trade and revenue of the kingdom; for remedy whereof, be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the first day of May, one thousand seven hundred and sixty four, no ship or vessel shall, upon any pretence whatsoever, be cleared outwards from any port of this kingdom, for any land, island, plantation, colony, territory, or place, to his Majesty belonging, or which shall hereafter belong unto or be in the possession or under the dominion of his Majesty, his heirs or successors, in America, unless the whole and entire cargo of such ship or vessel shall be bona fide, and without fraud, laden and shipped in this kingdom; and any officer of is Majesty’s customs is hereby empowered to stop any British ship or vessel arriving from any part of Europe, which shall be discovered within two leagues of the shore of any of the said British colonies or plantations in America, and to seize and take from thence, as forfeited, any goods (except as herein after mentioned) for which the master or other person taking the charge of such ship or vessel shall not produce a cocket or clearance from the collector or proper officer of his Majesty’s customs, certifying that the said goods were laden on board the said ship or vessel in some port of Great Britain.


Section 30 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains the measures taken to prevent smuggling and ensure proper documentation and payment of taxes for goods transported to the American Colonies. It also explains how these rules protect the trade and revenue of the kingdom. The key points are:

  1. Smuggling Problem — British ships arriving from foreign locations sometimes pretend their cargo is destined for foreign colonies but secretly land the goods in British American colonies. They often include small parcels of goods from Britain, for which they have proper documentation, to cover up the illegal cargo.
  2. New Regulation Effective Date — Starting on May 1, 1764.
  3. Cargo Requirement — No ship can be cleared to leave Britain for any British colony in America unless the entire cargo is genuinely loaded in Britain.
  4. Customs Authority — Customs officers have the power to stop any British ship arriving from Europe within two leagues (approximately six nautical miles) of the American shore.
  5. Certificate Requirement — The ship’s master must produce a cocket or clearance certificate from the British customs officer, confirming that the goods were loaded in a British port.
  6. Penalty for Non-Compliance — If the required certificate is not produced, the goods on the ship will be seized and forfeited.


The Sugar Act put an elaborate system in place that was intended to verify and track each shipment of goods to the American Colonies. The system ended Salutary Neglect by enforcing the Navigation Acts and supported Mercantilism in the colonies. The system also included:

  • Documentation — The Sugar Act introduced an elaborate system of bonds and cockets to accurately document the cargo of vessels and ports of call. This system was meant to make it more difficult for merchants to engage in smuggling by providing a detailed paper trail that customs officials could use to verify the legality of goods being traded.
  • Naval Enforcement — Naval officers were instructed to assist in collecting customs duties and patrolling American waters smugglers. This was intended to establish ongoing enforcement of the Sugar Act, however, many officers abused their authority. This contributed to the Gaspee Affair (1772).
  • Admiralty Courts — Accusations of violating the Sugar Act were to be prosecuted in the Admiralty Courts. These courts did not use juries, and the judges had full authority. Parliament considered these courts more reliable than common law courts and would ensure strict enforcement of the law. However, the financial incentives provided to judges by the Sugar Act increased the likelihood they would seize cargo regardless of the evidence.
  • Customs Officer Accountability — The Sugar Act required British Customs Officers to perform their duties in person or forfeit their jobs. Before this, Customs Officers usually lived in England and hired someone in the American Colonies to perform the duties of the position. Requiring Customs Officers to live in the Colonies was intended to reduce corruption and increase effectiveness. However, customs officers were given immunity from counter-suits by merchants, encouraging them to enforce the regulations without fear of legal repercussions.
  • Colonial Governor Reporting — Colonial Governors were required to report on smuggling. They were also required to swear an oath that they would enforce the Sugar Act.


These terms and definitions provide more context for students studying the Sugar Act. For more on the Sugar Act as it relates to the AP US History curriculum, see Sugar ACT APUSH Review.

  • Authority — The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
  • Bona Fide — Genuine or real, without fraud.
  • Cargo — Goods carried on a ship, aircraft, or other vehicle.
  • Clearance — Official permission for a ship to leave port.
  • Clandestinely — Secretly or illegally.
  • Cocket — An official document issued by customs certifying that duties have been paid and listing details about the shipped goods.
  • Collector — A customs officer responsible for collecting duties and taxes.
  • Customs — The government agency responsible for regulating the import and export of goods and collecting duties.
  • Destined — Intended for a specific destination.
  • Dominion — Control or sovereignty over a territory.
  • Entire — Complete or full.
  • Forfeited — Given up as a penalty for wrongdoing.
  • Fraud — Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.
  • Genuinely — Truly or sincerely.
  • Goods — Items or products for sale or trade.
  • Laden — Loaded with cargo.
  • Parliament — The highest legislative authority in Britain, consisting of the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the Sovereign.
  • Port — A harbor where ships load and unload cargo.
  • Prejudice — Harm or injury that results or may result from some action or judgment.
  • Revenue — Income, especially when of a company or organization and of a substantial nature.
  • Seized — Taken possession of by force or legal authority.
  • Ship — A vessel used for transporting goods across water.
  • Smuggling — The illegal movement of goods into or out of a country.
  • Territory — An area of land under the jurisdiction of a ruler or state.
  • Two Leagues — Approximately six nautical miles.

Key People

  • Samuel Adams — Adams helped lead opposition to the Sugar Act in Massachusetts. Went on to become a leader of the Boston Sons of Liberty and one of the most influential men behind the movement for independence.
  • George Grenville — Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Responsible for the design of the Sugar Act and introducing it to Parliament.
  • Stephen Hopkins — Governor of Rhode Island. Critic of the Sugar Act and its impact on the Rhode Island economy and colonial rights.
  • James Otis — Early advocate of the rights of Americans as British subjects. Argued against Writs of Assistance (1761) in the Paxton Case.

Primary Documents

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Sugar Act Explained — Section 30
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 30 of the Sugar Act do
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update June 14, 2024